April 26, 2020
Broken yet not beaten
Broken but not defeated could be used to describe Van Buren, Maine native Lyn Michaud. He could have pulled away from the sport he loved. Few would blame him if he did. Afterall, his sport almost took his life. This is his story after the crash at West Thompson Lake in August 1989.
Follow along as this determined young man recounts the battle after the crash in Connecticut. Though he could no longer be a driver as a result of the crash, Michaud continued as an owner/mechanic.
Michaud remarked about his race injuries, “Yeah, I say these things don’t happen often, but they do. They certainly do happen.”
Pointing to his right arm he said, “This arm was broken in five places. I still have a plate of steel in here. They never took it back out. The crash broke my collar-bone which severed an artery, the subclavian artery, so I was bleeding internally, I was puffing up. They didn’t know where, actually.”
“During the ride, the helicopter ride – I was Life Flighted, I think they said they gave me 15 units of blood because it was coming out as fast as they could put it in.”
“My right lung was punctured. I forget what else; it was a big!”
“But then I come out of it, recovered, but kind of stayed with the sport and just got other guys to drive for me,” recalled Michaud whose recovery at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester lasted three weeks. He was unable to go to work for six months. He was employed by his father, Ron, who owned S.J. Michaud & Son, a third-generation business. Some younger people may remember the name THe Ski Shop which was changed shortly before his father retired in the late 1980’s.
“The reason I returned (to hydroplane racing) was basically for the love of the sport and being around all the people and great friends I made over the years. I just wanted to say involved.”
“There’s no rivalries, everybody is friends with everybody and anybody will just jump to help at any given moment, I mean, if you’re on the beach and you can’t start, the clock is ticking down, five guys will rush in and just start doing things to get you out on that water.”
“And people lend parts to each other, and the people you know are just real and genuine. Guys go with their wives and kids and will drive a motor home to the race. They will stay in the pit area and make a weekend out of it. It’s a very family oriented.”
“I became an owner and owner-mechanic. The guys loved to step in and drive because that was an easy race for them, nothing to maintain. Go to a race, and then leave it all behind after the races.”
The Lock Haven surprise, a pleasant one at the right time
Shortly after Labor Day 1989, one month after his near fatal accident at West Thompson Lake, Michaud got a $1000 check from the Lock Haven Regatta in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. The $1000 represented what the winner of the “Cooler Bobbing” race would have been awarded.
“The money that was sent to me after the Lock Haven Race that year, actually was about $1000, was from an event held there every year called ‘Cooler Bobbing’,” remembered Michaud whose face lite up when he thought about the people from that small town of about 9,500 on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania who despite their size, host the second largest hydroplane race in the United States. “The winner typically gets the entire amount, but that year the race committee donated the proceeds to me. I never found out who the actual winner was that year! I was planning to attend a race this year and catch up with old friends but not sure if any will be held due to COVID-19.”
When asked who drove for him after 1989 Michaud replied, “Guys that were racing other classes that were at every race anyway. I was very lucky to have some of the top drivers in the country volunteer to drive my equipment. All were either National high point champions or National class champions which included, Alex Jennings, Charlie Gonyea, Ken Rosado, and the great Bill Giles to name a few.”
How many races did the Van Buren man participate in as a driver and later as a boat owner/mechanic?
Michaud had to go back in his mind to remember approximately how many races he was in as well as some locations that stood out in his mind.
“Oh my gosh”, thought Michaud out loud. “I used to go to… trying to think, how many races a year? I’m going to say, maybe I would go to eight or nine different race sites – maybe up to ten, eight to ten, a year.”
“In New England, we used to race Taunton, Massachusetts, on a place called Watson Pond twice a year. We’d race Lowell (Massachusetts) every year, we would race in Thompson, Connecticut every year. There always was a race in Thompson.
We did race a few years in Worcester, which did not quite have the longevity as the other races, but there was a four or five-year period we were able to race in Worcester. Of course, we also raced in Van Buren every year back then.”
“It was almost every weekend or every other weekend, May through the end of September. But of course, at each race, I raced two different classes, so that would be four – that’d be like four heats of racing per day. So, on a weekend I would end up racing in maybe eight heats between the two classes.”
Michaud estimated somewhere he raced in about 500 races in the seven years before he got hurt. The first couple years when he started the number of races were lower, however, once he got into the racing scene the number ballooned rapidly. A career lasting 11 years netted him somewhere near 1000 races as driver then owner.
The National Championships in the American Power Boat Association (APBA) were races that Michaud tried to attend as long as the were in the eastern United States. He remembers going to Michigan and West Virginia two or three times.
Two friends make the trip to California to race…minus Michaud
The APBA Nationals were also held in Bakersfield, California which he was unable to attend but recall the exploits of a couple racer friends, Pete and Mike Babcock from the Augusta area who did decide to race on the West Coast. Michaud was unable to make the trip and did not recall how the brothers did in California. At least they made the race.
Laughing, Michaud told their story, “I did have buddies from Maine that drove. They did go. I remember the Babcock’s, Pete and Mike, again, good friends – they live just a little south of Augusta, and I remember them saying it was ‘52 hours non-stop’ towing a trailer to Bakersfield. Can you imagine?”
“They said, “We would eat, sleep, and pee in the truck!”
Now an owner/mechanic, Michaud looked around for a new hydroplane to campaign. He wanted a boat that would be competitive with a good reputation. A couple of incidents would lead him to look seriously at the Pugh, built by Gary Pugh Boat Works in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“This was originally built as a 250 cc Alkie boat.”
“Pugh only builds pro class boats. He has never built a boat for the stocker or modified classes. He’s a pro guy. And so, the only way to get one of these was to buy one from a guy that was racing pro.”
The guy to beat was Clark Maloof in the D class. It was his Pugh that eventually was bought by Michaud.
One story which is somewhat humorous despite the serious nature of the incident was told by Michaud. He remembered this one race in particular with storied driver Clark Maloof and a man who would eventually race one of Michaud’s boats, Fred Zompa.
“I remember, in Lowell, it was the end of the day, it was the last race. There was a fella, by the name of Fred Zompa. Fred, from Rhode Island, was another good friend of mine that I got to know really well whenever we’d race in Van Buren. Every year, he stayed at my house.”
“Fred was a pretty good guy, you know, he was an Italian, and he was a go-getter. He always had nice boats, nice equipment, his stuff always ran well. Fred ran the D class.”
“When Clark wasn’t around, Fred would often times win in D. But that race in Lowell, Clark showed up.”
“Every race is three laps in our type of racing, three laps to the finish. It was on the last lap in the last turn. They, Maloof and Zompa, were coming around the last turn, heading to the finish line. They were having a fairly good race when they somehow hooked up together and Fred’s life jacket caught on to Clark’s steering bar in the back. Clark went down the last thousand feet of the straightaway to the finish line with Fred bouncing on top of the water going 75, 80 miles an hour in back of Maloof’s boat.”
“Right away after the finish, Maloof pulled off the race course and pulled into shore. Clark just took one look back and he yelled, ‘Learn to stay in your own GD boat next time!’”
“That was, Clark Maloof. It was like, “If you can’t race me, get the hell out of my way.’ Kinda like Dale Earnhardt, I mean, I tell you, he was notorious.”
Incident number two which further convinced Michaud to purchase a Pugh Hydro once again involved Clark Maloof, this time in Florida at the international level.
Referring to the boat in his boat shed, Michaud referenced the Pugh, “This is the last boat Clark ever drove before he retired. And he had it built way back in the late 80’s or it could have been the early 90s.”
“They had a world championship race in the United States. Every year the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) sanctions World Boating Championships, typically always held in Europe. They have them in Russia, the Czech Republic, and they have them in China. They rarely come to the US, because it (hydroplane racing) is much smaller here than it is in Europe.”
“In Europe this racing is huge, much bigger than it is here. Eventually the World Championships, the UIM Championships, came to the United States, I believe it was in Florida. Clark decided he was going to race, so he had this boat built specifically for him in the 250 Class.”
“In the World Championships, he went through qualifications races and qualified for the final. In the final, the first heat, it was a 12-boat field… he was boat lengths ahead in first place, I mean Clark, this guy was good!”
“On the second lap, he just got a little too loose. I don’t know if he hit a wave or something, he went airborne. The boat went up about 25 feet in the air and that was it, he was done. It did do something to the boat, he couldn’t go back out second heat”
“After that he said, ‘Ah, that’s it, I’m done.’
“He sold me the boat. He wanted to sell me the motor, too, but I was not interested in the pro class. So, somebody else ended up buying the pro motor from him Clark. I just bought the boat.”
“Over the years I had some really good drivers, guys who stepped in. One of my favorites of the drivers was a guy by the name of Charlie Gonyea. He was from Worcester. Got to be really good friends with Charlie, and he drove for quite a few years for me. He drove a couple of classes on his own and then would step up and drive one of my classes for me.”
“When his wife Kathy died from cancer, she had asked Charlie to have her ashes spread out in turn one of the first race at Lock Haven Regatta in Pennsylvania. Charlie mixed in with her ashes many red rose petals which were churned up when the hydros hit turn one of that race.”
“At the time I wasn’t married. When I married Carla, she came to quite a few races. There was a place in Pennsylvania that we used to race at every year called Lock Haven. Beautiful, beautiful facility. It is on a river similar to the St. John River in Van Buren; maybe just a little bit wider.”
“Because in the spring the water goes way up, the town had huge rock banks that’s like a flood control thing. They also built out of concrete a little seating stadium that can probably seat, I think close to a thousand people.”
“The boat race is huge. I think for the last three or four years in a row, I’ve been reading, it’s now, the largest… other than the national championships, the biggest participation race in the United States.”
“Just last year, Carla mentioned that the Lock Haven Regatta is always on Labor Day weekend, a three-day race. Typically, races were always two-day races – Saturday – Sunday, but Lockhaven is a Saturday, Sunday, Monday race.”
“When we going’ back to Lockhaven??” she said, “I kind of miss that place. I want to go back.”
The responsibility for managing the Ski Shop and marriage helped Michaud decide to retire from the hydroplane racing scene in the mid 1990’s. By then the Van Buren Regatta was history and travel was an issue.
Lyn kept the Pugh boat for use on the lake where he now resides. The boat was converted to a sit-down version with foot throttle. An electric starter replaced the rope start allowing him to operate the boat without getting someone to start the engine.
Michaud’s Craigslist ad does a fine job describing the boat that he now has for sale:
“Pugh 12-foot Racing hydroplane now converted to a lake racer. Previously used for APBA sanctioned racing in the 850cc Hydro Modified class, this boat has now been converted to a sit-down lake racer.”
“This is a high-speed craft capable of speeds up to 90 mph! Boat was built approximately in 1990 by Pugh Boat Works in Knoxville Tennessee. Motor is modified OMC 45 cubic inch 2-cylinder 70hp that is a fresh new build with approximately 1 hour of run time on it. I have close to $6000.00 invested in the motor alone!”
“Boat is in good condition but paint is fair. Originally raced as a kneel down, I have now rigged the boat with a seat and foot throttle. Included with this sale is boat, motor, two propellers, boat cart, set up tools and all the spare parts I have! The motor is set up with electric start but I will include the original racing flywheel which requires rope starting. This rig is intended for responsible ADULTS ONLY… not a kid toy!”
I almost hope he does not sell the boat. It is a keepsake. We need a racing museum in northern Maine to house some of these racing treasures.
Michaud continued to work at his business, The Ski Shop, until he sold out and retired in 2018. He now lives at his home on Long Lake, Van Buren, Maine with his wife Carla. On occasion he will watch some vintage races on the internet. He sometimes wishes he had not discarded the many trophies he won over the years or had at least removed the ID tags to help him remember those racing days.
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria (Zephaniah 3:17)